Choose the life-giver

Published 8:09 pm Friday, August 10, 2018

By Thurman Hayes

Last week, I wrote about a recent beach read, Mariano Rivera’s memoir, “The Closer.” The book is wonderfully inspiring, but does contain a cautionary tale.

Before he became a New York Yankee, Rivera, like all young players, was assigned to the minor leagues, where one of his teammates was a guy named Brien Taylor. Brien had been the No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft. Not just the Yankees’ No. 1 pick, but the No. 1 pick in all of baseball.

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He was a kid from Beaufort, N.C., just out of high school. But he seemed destined for stardom. Entering the 1992 season, Brien Taylor was ranked by Baseball America as the top prospect in baseball.

And for two minor league seasons, it looked like he was going to join Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as the next wave of Yankee greats. He had what scouts call “easy gas,” the ability to throw hard without even trying to throw hard. He was a prodigy. In fact, Mark Newman, the Yankees minor league director, once compared him to Mozart.

Then came Dec. 18, 1993. Taylor was back home, in North Carolina. He decided to go to a bar with his brother and a friend. A fight broke out. According to witnesses, Taylor tried to intervene to stop it, but was thrown to the ground, landing on his pitching shoulder.

He had torn the capsule and labrum. The legendary baseball surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe, called it the worst injury he had ever seen.

Taylor tried in vain to come back. For two years, he tried and tried. But he could no longer throw hard or under control. His baseball career was over. What’s more, he had squandered his signing bonus. He went back home, where his life spiraled out of control. In 2012, he was sentenced to prison for selling cocaine, exchanging the uniform of the New York Yankees for a prison jump suit.

Mariano Rivera writes, “The whole thing is so horribly sad — to think that the course of his entire life could be altered by a fit of anger and a momentary lapse in judgment.”

What can we learn from such a tragedy?

The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good character.”

If you put yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, you are not going to get the right result.

What if Brien had chosen friends who could help him be a better person, instead of hanging out with people who were going to drag him down? What if he had decided to spend a wholesome evening with quality friends, instead of going to a bar, where the toxic combination of alcohol and temper ended his baseball career?

Like Mariano Rivera, I am struck by the reality that one poor decision led to such devastating consequences. But that is reality, and not just for Brien Taylor. 1 Peter 5:8 warns us to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” Choose the life-giver, not the thief.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr. is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.