Cincinnati Reds pitcher Brandon Claussen spoke to about 200 Fellowship of Christian Athlete students Monday at Rock Staubus Gym. Claussen was drafted by the Yankees and later traded to the Reds. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
The sea of fans was so dense it eclipsed all 6 feet, 1 inch and 200 pounds of Brandon Claussen.
Fans pushed baseball cards, a beanie and a purple Wildcats cap toward the Major League Baseball pitcher, who leaned against the wall and signed away with a black felt-tip pen.
But Monday night wasn’t really about autographs or baseball. It was about God.
Claussen, 27, flew into Clovis to tell approximately 200 local students about his path to Christianity. His rise from an eastern New Mexico town to Shea Stadium was simply a sidebar.
“I’m telling you,” said Claussen, pacing around the Clovis High School Rock Staubus Gymnasium, “God is real.”
The sandy-haired pitcher — a graduate of Goddard High School in Roswell — held a record for most strikeouts in the minor league. In the 1998 amateur draft, the New York Yankees swept him up in the 34th round. These days, he throws for the Cincinnati Reds.
Yet, in the Clovis gym, he toted a Bible, not a baseball.
Local teenagers — who are members of the largest Christian sports organization in America, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — were enraptured.
“This book,” said Claussen, waving a Bible in the air, “the only way it’s worth anything is if you read it. This is what it’s all about. It’s about him.”
Citing scripture, bowing his head to pray — these things weren’t always part of Claussen’s life. The pitcher said he began drinking at the age of 13. He spent years partying, chasing girls and flaunting money made on the pitcher’s mound.
“Money can make you think you are bigger, better and badder than everybody else,” Claussen said.
“I was running,” Claussen said of those years, “but I wasn’t getting anywhere.”
Claussen found God at the age of 20, he said, urged toward faith by his born-again family and a fellow ball player. But his faith wavered at Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas, and later in Tampa, Fla., where Claussen again became a heavy drinker, he said.
“I built my house on sand,” Claussen said.
Local students can relate, Clovis High School junior and FCA member Miles Ware said.
“It was a shout out to people in high school on that path,” Ware said.
Claussen said his faith wasn’t cemented until the sudden death of his father.
His hero, he said, was snatched away when an artery in his brain burst. Claussen said he was drunk when his family called to tell him his father was in a Lubbock hospital on life support.
He arrived to watch as his father was detached from the machines.
“Finally,” Claussen said in a booming voice, “I got on my hands and knees and prayed. It took my dad dying for me to get on my knees. That’s how lost I was.”
Despite his pleas, his father died. Claussen, however, stayed close to God. He has been sober for five years, he said.
Once he gave his life and baseball to God, Claussen said his career sped up.
He was chosen from hundreds of “dudes” to play with the Yankees, he said.
“I looked around and saw Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Bernie Williams,” Claussen said of his first game with the Yankees. “These people were on my stinkin’ team. We won that game. Dude, I even got to bat. Guess what? I got a stinkin’ hit,” he bellowed.
Lowering his voice, he turned from sports to issues of faith. His triumph on the field, he said, would be hollow without God, he said.
“There is so much more to life than just goals and dreams. He is life,” Claussen said.
Claussen, his wife, Kelli, and their newborn daughter split their time among Hobbs, Cincinnati and Florida, where Claussen trains, according to Kelli.