Sid Bream: Faith and baseball at the Bible Church

Former Dodger, Pirate and Brave Sid Bream talks with young fan Rhinney Leonhardt, 7, following his talk Sunday night at the Bible Church. David Peck photo
Former Dodger, Pirate and Brave Sid Bream talks with young fan Rhinney Leonhardt, 7, following his talk Sunday night at the Bible Church.
David Peck photo

Former major leaguer Sid Bream spoke of faith and baseball during a talk at the Bible Church in Lovell Sunday night.

The evening was sponsored by the Lovell and Powell chapters of Polestar Outdoors LLC, which uses hunting and fishing as outdoor venues to bring adult mentors and teenagers together to build long-term relationships with both spiritual and recreational benefits. Bream said he wholeheartedly supports Polestar and the work the organization performs and hopes others will, too, calling Polestar “an awesome organization.”

Polestar co-founder Ron Vining said he first met Bream when Bream was a freshman at Liberty University. They became friends, and years later while attending a Pittsburgh Pirates game he saw Bream’s faith in action when a young autograph seeker wondered why Bream wrote “Eph 2:8-10” next to his autograph. Vining told the girl that the abbreviation and numbers referred to the book of Ephesians, chapter two, verses 8 through 10 in the New Testament.

The verses read: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

It is one of several versus Bream includes with his autographs.

Bream played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros during his 12-year Major League Baseball career. He said his father was his hero and taught him the game of baseball. His dad had a chance to play for the St. Louis Browns but turned down the opportunity because he wouldn’t play on Sunday.

The third of six kids, Bream excelled on the baseball field. When his Little League coach challenged his players by saying any player who hit a home run could get a half gallon of ice cream, Bream more than met the challenge.

“We played an 11-game season, and I proceeded to hit 19 home runs,” he said with a smile.

After playing high school and American Legion baseball, Bream attended Liberty Baptist College, now Liberty University, where he again excelled, hitting over .400. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981 and hit .329 with 83 home runs and 407 RBIs during his minor league career. He made his major league debut on Sept. 1, 1983, with the Dodgers. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1985.

A lesson learned

Playing his first full season in 1986, Bream began to hit major league pitching much better but became frustrated at times when he would run into a slump.

“I thought, I’m a Christian, I go to church Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. I accepted the Lord when I was 13. I wasn’t perfect. I had a bad temper, and God had to do a lot of things in my life,” he said.

“But in May of that year I went into a slump, and instead of spending more time in the video room or taking more batting practice, the first thing I did was say, ‘God, why me? Why are you doing this to me? I’m trying to be an example. Other guys are going out on their wives while we’re on the road and cursing your name, and they have success. I’m the one struggling. I don’t understand.’

“I was mad at God.”

Similar feelings arose in 1987, so Bream called his college coach, Al Harrington, and his former coach gave him some valuable advice.

“He asked me, ‘If God wanted you to have a batting average of .195, could you do that?’ I said, ‘I don’t think I could,’” Bream said.

“He said, ‘You gave your life to Jesus Christ. You promised to honor and glorify him. Your life is a testimony to him. It’s not that he doesn’t want you to be an MVP, his goal for you is Jesus Christ.’

“Baseball was my object. I wasn’t focusing on him. Understand that God wants our very, very best. God takes us through rough times, but he is a jealous God. He loves the praise of his people. You have the opportunity as young people to understand how important it is to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and because my coach was a mentor that allowed me to get over a great hurdle.”

The slide

Bream signed with the Atlanta Braves in 1991 and played in two World Series. He made his most famous plays, known as the slide, in game seven of the 1992 National League Championship Series against his former Pittsburgh teammates when he slid home with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth in a 3-2 win over the Pirates.

The Pirates led 2-0 going into the ninth with ace Doug Drabek on the mound, needing three outs to advance to the World Series. Terry Pendleton doubled to lead off the inning, and David Justice reached on an error. Drabek walked Bream on four straight pitches to load the bases.

Reliever Stan Belinda got two outs around a walk, including a deep sacrifice fly by Ron Gant that scored a run, and the Pirates were one out from victory, leading 2-1. With the bases loaded and Bream at second, Francisco Cabrera laced a sharp single to Barry Bonds in left field. Justice easily scored to tie the game, and Bream steamed around third base and headed for home.

Announcers had wondered if the Braves should have replaced the relatively slow-footed Bream with a pinch runner, but the big man had a head of steam and slid home with the winning run, just beating the tag of a lunging Pittsburgh catcher Mike LaValliere. Teammates piled on top of the smiling Bream at home plate.

“That play has given me the opportunity to go around and talk about my faith in Jesus Christ,” Bream said.

Asked what it felt like to score the run and whether he was hurt when his teammates piled on top of him, Bream said he had so much adrenaline flowing through him that he could have throw off all of his teammates if he had wanted to.

“It was such an awesome feeling,” he said. “I’m thankful I was able to get to home plate.”

He noted that Belinda was so focused on Cabrera at home plate that he was able to get a large lead and a sizable secondary lead as the pitch was delivered that gave him a great jump when Cabrera hit the ball.

“I had two choices: do I slide in straight or do I slide in straight,” Bream joked. “I’ve had five knee operations on my right knee and one on my left. I didn’t know what my knee was going to do.”

After speaking, Bream spent time signing baseball cards for kids and adults who attended the program.

By David Peck