Pirates pitcher leads off with faith and family

Friday, April 05, 2019 - Updated: 2:12 pm

By MATTHEW PEASLEE Associate Editor

Baseball fans see Trevor Williams as a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher with a great location on his fastball and a set of offspeed pitches to keep hitters guessing.

Trevor Williams sees himself as a husband, father, brother, son, a child of God, a devout Catholic and “a million other things.”

And then he’s a baseball player.

“My responsibility first is to my family,” said Williams, a third-year member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. “But I do take my job very seriously. I know what’s important to me and, essentially, what’s going to get me to heaven is not playing baseball.”

Williams, who turns 27 later this month, was born and raised in San Diego. He attended Mass at St. Michael Parish, where he met his future wife, Jackie, in the church’s youth group. Williams went to college at baseball powerhouse Arizona State, where he majored in history. It was there that he began to develop a greater appreciation for the faith by studying early church fathers.

“A mentor told me to get plugged in immediately to the Newman Center on campus,” he said. “I was able to get connected to others who love Christ.”

WIlliams also joined the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, and he is still involved with the organization. In January, he spoke at the SEEK Conference in Indianapolis. Williams understands the challenges of young adults and college students who struggle with their faith at a pivotal age.

“(Students) need to be steadfast and understand that the world doesn’t always agree with Christians or Catholics,” he said. “We need to embrace the fact that we have the absolute truth — the fullness of truth.”

Pittsburgh fans seem to be embracing Williams, too. He has more than 27,000 followers on Twitter, where he interacts with fans on various topics beyond baseball such as cartoons, video games, breakfast foods and music. But each Lent, he takes a break from the social media platform. He also delves into some spiritual reading, like Pope Benedict’s books and all four Gospels, while attending daily Mass as often as he can.

“Lent always coincides with spring training,” Williams said. “I like to think of Lent as spring training for the liturgical year. It’s great to prepare for the season in a spiritual and athletic way.”

He has already started the regular season on a high note by shutting out the Cincinnati Reds on March 31. He wouldn’t be in this position, though, if it wasn’t for three events in October 2015. His son, Isaac, was born Oct. 2 and he was traded from the Miami Marlins to the Pirates Oct. 25. Also that month, his father Richard was diagnosed with Stage 4 B-cell lymphoma. He was given 60-90 days to live.

Trevor, Jackie and the family continuously prayed a novena to St. Jude, and after chemotherapy, radiation and spinal taps, Richard was cancer-free in April 2017.

“My wife comes from a large Mexican family, and their cultural devotion to novenas helps us a lot,” Williams said. “The St. Jude novena was really miraculous for my family. It’s a go-to novena when we need daily miracles. My father’s recovery is truly a miracle.”

Richard now travels around the country to see his son pitch in the major leagues.

“Life is a gift,” Richard Williams said. “Never take it for granted.”

Jackie and Isaac can also be found at PNC Park on a regular basis. Isaac is 3 years old now and in the early stages of faith formation by saying, “thank you, Jesus,” when he prays, and folding his hands a particular way.

“They’re a beautiful family,” said Father William Schwartz, a Pirates season-ticket holder and chaplain for the team. “It’s amazing to see them live out their faith.”

Each time Trevor takes the mound, he is a living sign of Catholicism with his tattooed arms carrying images of St. Benedict of Nursia and an abbreviation of the Jesuit motto “Ad mairoem Dei gloriam” (for the greater glory of God). A crucifix hangs in his locker.

Trevor joined the Knights of Columbus earlier this year and plans to become more active in the community this offseason, where he makes his home in Phoenix, Arizona.

He could become a Cy Young Award winner or lead the Pirates to a World Series championship, but he has already claimed a huge achievement with the founding of his foundation, Project 34. Cory Hahn, Trevor’s teammate at Arizona State, fractured the C5 vertebrae in his neck and became paralyzed from the chest down after sliding into second base during a game. Hahn wore No. 34 in college, and Trevor now wears it for the Pirates as a tribute to his friend.

Project 34 is a nonprofit organization dedicated to positively impacting those who suffer from spinal cord injuries by helping to purchase medical equipment and assistive devices, and provide funds to help patients afford physical therapy.

“It’s grown so much in one year,” Trevor said. “All 30 major league teams now have Project 34 shirts in their colors, and we can award grants to people. The fruit of our labor is being shown.”

As a professional athlete, Trevor has a platform to represent himself, his team, his family and his faith. He recognizes that this window of opportunity is not going to last forever so he takes advantage of the moment to tell the world what he is all about.

“I want to make the most of it,” he said. “I love the quote, ‘Your talent is a gift from God. What you use with your talent is a gift back.’”

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