30 baseball books in 30 days of ’10: Day 29 — Pastore visits his past, and frankly, it’s a pretty amazing transformation

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The book: “Shattered: Struck Down, But Not Destroyed”

The author: Frank Pastore (with Ellen Vaughn)

The vital stats: Focus On The Family publishing, 225 pages, $13.99

Find it: On the publisher’s website (linked here). Also on Amazon.com (linked here)

The pitch: Chapter One:

“It was a clear blue day in Dodger Stadium, perfect for baseball. And my life was perfect, too.
“At age 26, I’d been pitching for the Cincinnati Reds for five years. I had a beautiful wife, a young son, and a baby on the way, a decent fastball, and he cars, condos, and cash of the good life in the fast lane. My dreams had come true.
“I was cruising to a 3-1 victory, with two outs in the eighth inning. I threw a 2-1 fastball on the outside of the plate, something I’d done a thousand times before.
“It’s odd how life can change forever in the blink of an eye.”

Steve Sax of the Dodgers lined the pitch back at him. Pastore put his right arm up to protect his head. The ball crushed his elbow “like a hammer hitting a glass bottle.”

He asked God why he would let that happen, “and that made me madder still. Prayer was for weaklings and losers. … I didn’t believe in God. I was raging at Someone who didn’t exist.”

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Don’t stop here and assume this is using a baseball autobiography disguised as a witness talk to brow-beat the reader into beliving in a higher power. It’s simply a man’s journey — one who believed he was an invincible pitcher on a successful team making great money and having all the spoils of victory — and how he didn’t feel fulfilled.

Pastore, who today has a daily talk show on KKLA-FM (99.5) (linked here) that focuses “on the intersection of faith and reason,” has a way of presenting his journey without making it uncomfortable or unreasonable. He had all the same push-back doubts about those who came at him with a Bible and a belief of something better. He grew up with no faith, in a family very dysfunctional, with a God-given talent of throwing a baseball.

How would he use that talent?

He was a Southern California kid from the ’60s and ’70s — West Covina, Upland, went to high school at Damien. Had his mom pretend to be Catholic so they could get into the private school. He had a girl he wanted to marry — his friend’s little sister, four years younger than him — from a strict Catholic family.

As for that game used in Chapter One, and repeated in detail in Chapter 24 — he was defeating Fernando Valenzuela on his home turf — this was actually the second time in his career where that kind of “Ahhh” moment hit him. Both were at Dodger Stadium.

Three years earlier, on a Saturday nationally televised game, Pastore’s son, Frankie, was born a month early, rushed to the hospital with underdeveloped lungs and given a 50-50 chance of surviving his first week. Reds manager John McNamara gave him the choice to skip his turn, but without much sleep, Pastore decided to pitch that day for the Reds against the Dodgers. He went 7-plus innings and got the win. And his son survived.

Pastore writes:

“This was life and death — a flesh-and-blood situation — and Frankie pulled at something inside of me. I began to realize, in a way that I couldn’t or wouldn’t even articulate, that I may have had all the external signs of success, but there was something wrong. Something was missing. There was a hole in my life that ‘more’ wasn’t filling. … I began to lose faith that baseball would eve rmake me happy and fulfilled.
“I remember looking around the clubhouse at the players one day … most of these men had become rich and famous (but) only a few were happy. That was very disturbing. … The only guys who seemed to be ‘together’ were the guys I regularily made fun of behind their backs: those religious fanatics who brought the Bible into the locker room … those born-again Jesus freaks who believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and Somebody rising from the dead.”

There are stories of Pastore learning life lessons from his boyhood idols, Johnny Bench and Tom Seaver. There’s even a better story later when Pastore is released by the Reds — called into manager Pete Rose’s office and told the news. Pastore takes it so passively that Rose becomes enraged.

“‘This God s— isn’t going to help you! So many guys get into religion and this Bible s—. This game of life is about looking out for number one … And here you are with all this ‘Jesus loves you’ crap.’”

Pastore answers: “I do know that God has a plan for evertying. … why do you think He choose you, out of all the players in the world, to be the one to break Ty Cobb’s record? I’m going to pray for you.”

And then you know about what happened to Rose …

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How it goes down in the scorebook: Pastore tells his life story better than we could ever try to replicate here, but it’s in a personable, inviting way that explains his process of challenging himself and his family, rebounding not just from that incident as a player but several times in his post-baseball career, when the IRS blindsided him, and when he was disillusioned by the politics going on at the Christian-faith university he taught at, Biola. Thanks for sharing.

Also: Pastore has a book signing at Barnes & Noble stores in Orange on May 15, in Torrance on May 22 and in Glendale on June 4.

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