Bumpy Road Leaves Major League
Pitcher, Darin Downs, Focused on His Faith
Written by Charlie Lapastora
From getting hit in the head by a line drive that almost killed him in the minors, to bouncing back and experiencing a World Series, Detroit Tigers pitcher Darin Downs has seen it all. Through every circumstance his faith has been at the center. Beginning with the loving and non-judgmental atmosphere from his minor league teammates when he was drafted, to the accountability his Tigers teammates give him today, it’s all about community for Downs. It’s what has helped him through the good and bad. Being a husband and father first and foremost, professional baseball takes a strike to faith with family stealing first in his life.
NOTE: As this article went to print, Downs had been traded to the Houston Astros for the 2014 season.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine in Troy, Michigan
Risen Magazine: Could you share your testimony of how Jesus came into your life?
Darin Downs: A lot of guys that are Christians have been brought up in the church, but I never went to church, never read the Bible. When I was probably about 12 or 13, I went to a [church] youth group with my buddy. [The group] invited me to accept Jesus into my heart; I said, “sounds good, let me do it,” and bam, I did it. But I didn’t feel any different and didn’t really know what it meant. I was drafted [into baseball] while in high school, [but it wasn’t until] 2006, during Spring Training, that I went to church with some friends and began to meet a big group of people—(ages) 19 or 20 or so—and started hanging out. At this point in my life, I knew about Jesus, I knew the Bible, about Christ and what He had done, but that friendship with them and how they loved on me and showed me love and grace in everything I did, made me want what they had.
They were so happy all the time, they just loved life. I mean everybody goes through all types of stuff, they’re mad or sad, but they were just a light for me and they showed me the way without saying, “Oh, Darin, here’s what it says in the Bible.” Instead they outwardly just loved on me. I knew they had something that I didn’t. I eventually gave my life to Christ and I made a complete 180. He’s still working on me day in and day out, but that’s when I committed my life to Christ.
Risen Magazine: You mentioned how important it was for people to love you and not judge you. I think in the Christian world today, a lot of Christians can be so judgmental. How big was it to have your friends who loved you and supported you, yet not judge you?
Darin Downs: That’s part of the reason that drew me to Christ. I knew I wasn’t perfect, they knew I wasn’t perfect, but they still invited me [to be with them]. I would go to dinners in their homes, not knowing others in the group, but they loved on me. You know, they weren’t just saying, “You got to do this, this, and this,” or “Darin you’re sinning ‘cause it says here [Bible], you should act this way.” And as they loved on me, I started to feel it on my heart and I wanted what they had.
Risen Magazine: As a professional athlete, how do you go about witnessing to your teammates? Do you show that same type of love?
Darin Downs: You have to. As a team in general, you have to love on everybody but, yeah, I personally just tried to love everybody on the team. [Even if it is] guys who are doing totally opposite of what I would do, I still go out to dinner with them, still get coffee with them in the morning because this may be the only truth they see in their day. I’m showing them love and being gracious to them. [And hopefully] they might realize, he’s different.
Risen Magazine: In your bio, you said, back then [you] understood everything, but were mostly going through the motions. I think a lot of Christians today struggle with this – becoming lukewarm in their faith. Why do you think that is?
Darin Downs: I personally believe that a lot of people might know the truth, they know the Bible, they know verses, they know everything, and they might not be in a group. For me, this season has been a complete blessing because I’ve been around the baseball chapel, but I’ve had other teammates, not one, but a handful of them that if I’m down that day, they’ll pick me up. Or if I’m doing something, they’re holding me accountable. Or say I had a rough night last night; I’m doing stuff I shouldn’t have—just re-confessing. When you’re talking to them; whether it’s a Bible study or just hanging out with them, you have that strength day in and day out to tackle the evil in your life or the evil in the world because they’re keeping you strong too. Nobody can do it by themselves. That’s why we have God, Jesus. I think people think they know everything; they say “Ah, I think I memorized everything,” but they’re not getting in that fellowship and really trying to grow as a follower of Christ.
Risen Magazine: You were hit in the head with a line drive back in 2009. How were you able to recover from that and how did you cope with such a devastating injury?
Darin Downs: I recovered very slowly. I remember not wanting to ever step on the field or play baseball again. I was terrified. I prayed day in and day out for God to strengthen me, heal me, keep me going, and energize me because I was completely tired; and [I prayed] for His guidance. By the grace of God I’m playing, I’m here now, and it’s been a blessing.
I remember not wanting to ever step on the field or play baseball again. I was terrified.
Risen Magazine: How did the injury take place? Were you in the minors at the time?
Darin Downs: Yeah, I was pitching for AA Montgomery Biscuits. I remember it was my second start. I had just got moved up from the high A and it was the fifth inning. It was a very long at bat; a 12-15 pitch at-bat. I was throwing everything at this guy. I was getting tired, hot and sweaty. Fastball, he was fouling it off; curveball, fouling it off; I never throw change-ups to lefties— but change-up, he’s fouling it off. Ball was out of the zone, ball was in the dirt, ball was in the zone; fouled everything off. By the 15th pitch or so, just fast balled away; [he] connected. I didn’t have really any time to react. I put my glove up and it hit me above the left ear.
Risen Magazine: Do you remember that moment specifically? What were you thinking when that happened?
Darin Downs: Everybody asks me if I was knocked unconscious, but I remembered everything that whole night. At that point, I was kind of terrified and I couldn’t speak. I just started praying a little bit: “God help me get through this one.” As it got a little more serious, I was like “God, just perform a miracle in my life.” At that moment, I was starting to get really terrified. My head’s hurting, my brain’s swelling. I found hope in Him. I knew whatever happened, I couldn’t really change it and He would get me through.
Risen Magazine: That reminds me a lot of Job and the stuff that happened to him back in the Old Testament. Why in the world would God allow certain things?
Darin Downs: It really makes you stronger. Sometimes it’s not easy and my career hasn’t been easy. I thank Him I got to pitch in the big leagues. I thank Him that I got to be a part of the World Series. Sometimes you’re let down, but just sit back and be thankful for everything you have instead of wondering, why this or why that. Baseball’s been a blessing in my life. Give or take, I almost died on the field. So, anything extra, I can’t complain.
Risen Magazine: How would you say your faith has played a factor into the injury and your current standing?
Darin Downs: Huge factor. I know if this was ten years ago, I’d be angry and punch a hole in the wall. My faith has grounded me. It’s taught me to thank Him through the trials, thank Him through the good stuff, everything and has kept me grounded. I know if I follow Him, everything’s going to be okay. It might be hard or a struggle, but I’ll get through it. I’ve got my family and I’m truly blessed to be playing.
Risen Magazine: It does take faith. You can’t plan it on your own.
Darin Downs: We do try to plan everything. Probably about five percent of the time it works out the way we want it, the other 95 percent, we just get angry or upset. In July, I went on the DL [disabled list] for a shoulder thing. I spent about a month and a half on the DL. [As a result] I get optioned down to a AAA team. That’s a bummer. I’m there for three weeks; but thinking, “I’ll get called up in September.” September 1st rolls around, and I was not getting called up. Our [AAA] season ends on the 3rd, and I still don’t get called up. That night, I told my wife that I didn’t want the season to end. We prayed about it…About five days later, the phone rings but I don’t pick it up. I then get a text message from the assistant GM; “Darin call me ASAP.” As I called the GM, he said, “We’re going to need you in Chicago tomorrow.” So, I got re-called up to the big leagues and it just shows you never know what is going on.
I had thought the season was over and yet I got called back up, pitched good a couple times, had a chance to make the postseason roster and didn’t make it, but you just can’t get in your own way. You’ve got to let God sort it out. He’s going to do what’s great for you. When I look back at it, at things that happened, [He had] sent me home. Why? Because I had a pregnant wife and I didn’t want her to drive home by herself with our daughter. I was able to drive her home and [still get called] up a week later. You have to trust and have faith. Sometimes you’ll feel let down, but it’s all part of something a lot bigger.
Risen Magazine: How long have you been married?
Darin Downs: Almost four years. I just want to be the most godly husband, father and provider. Without my faith helping me and really grounding me and showing me the right way to be that man, husband, and father, I’d be lost.
Risen Magazine: How do you stay grounded and keep that perspective?
Darin Downs: Reading the Bible and reading some verses. Maybe things aren’t going great in the house—nobody’s perfect—maybe things aren’t’ going great with your wife. But, in the end, you turn back to Scripture and you’re supposed to lead and stay strong and be courageous. I got that encouragement and keep going no matter how bad things get. I’m not saying I have a terrible marriage or anything but you know, things like less patience here and there, you just got to keep at it; keep going.
Without my faith helping me and really grounding me and showing me the right way
to be that man, husband, and father, I’d be lost.
Risen Magazine: You’re in the spotlight and according to the world, you’ve got it all. You’ve got money, you play professional baseball, and you’re married. There are so many guys, especially in the church, who use many excuses of being weak as a man. What advice can you give to guys that aren’t stepping up and leading their families?
Darin Downs: Before anything, I’m a husband and a father. You have to be the man, husband, and father that God has called you to be. I fall short on that a lot of times, but there’s a lot of encouragement and strength in the Bible to help pick me up. I think the more you’re encouraged by the Word, and by the Truth, no matter how hard things are, you just continue to be that godly man. That’s one of the things I try to do my best, even before baseball or anything.
Risen Magazine: When temptations do come, whether in the clubhouse or on the road, how do you deal with those?
Darin Downs: I try to not be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I know what I should be doing and shouldn’t be doing as far as the social life. I know how to put myself in good situations with people who aren’t going to let me slip up.
Risen Magazine: Would you say there is one person that has impacted you the most?
Darin Downs: Coaches. I can’t put my hand on one specific person. All the coaches that loved on me, encouraged me, taught me discipline, work ethic to where I am today. It’s a true blessing to have people in my life that would be gracious enough to take time out of their day, especially when I was younger.
Risen Magazine: What’s something that you’re most passionate about in life?
Darin Downs: Baseball and my family. I really want to do something with the youth. I’m not hands-on yet. But I feel like the youth is so skewed and they’re going off in all types of different directions with everything the world says they should be. I really want to be a leader to them. Especially with my platform. I mean who wouldn’t want to play in the big leagues? So, who wouldn’t at least listen to me, whether they hear it or not. That’s something I’m trying to look for, more avenues to get involved with kids and teens. It breaks my heart when kids have no dads or structure in life or that person to turn to.
Risen Magazine: What are some of your favorite Bible verses?
Darin Downs: I like John 3:30. Very simple. God needs to be greater, I need to be smaller. Get out of your own way. Let God lead you. When you’re trying to do it all yourself, things don’t happen right. Sit back, take the background. Let me be the backseat driver. You lead and I’m going to follow you. (“He must increase, but I must become less” –John 3:30 (ESV))
And, Romans 12:2. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. –Romans 12:2 (ESV)
He says do not be conformed and goes on to tell you how to be transformed, by the renewing of your mind so we can test His good and perfect will. That verse tells us the command, how to do it, and the why.
As an athlete, and being around the spotlight, the fans, the money, [it’s important to not become] what the world wants you to be. [I want to be] who God wants me to be. That’s been my verse this season. When I feel like I’m slipping or I feel like I’m starting to drift towards that worldly being, I don’t conform, I try to turn around. How? By praying, renewing my mind.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Winter 2013