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Podcast | 23 Minutes

Redeeming Culture Through Sports | Jose Alvarez, Links Players International

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
Redeeming Culture Through Sports | Jose Alvarez, Links Players International

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Did you ever stop to think that today could be the best day of your life? It just might be! Jose Alvarez is here to tell you why – and share what Christian discipleship looks like.

Jose is the upstate South Carolina regional Director of Links Players International, a nationwide discipleship fellowship for golfers. Whether or not you’ve ever touched a golf club, this episode is sure to inspire you and make you smile!

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcription may vary from the words used in the original episode for better readability.

Marlin Detweiler:

Hello again. I'm Marlin Detweiler, and you've joined us for Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Today we have with us Jose Alvarez. Jose, welcome.

Jose Alvarez:

Thanks, Marlin. Good to be with you.

Marlin Detweiler:

Jose is a dear friend and he is not involved directly in the K-12 education work. But I think you'll get a sense of why we wanted to have him on here in just a moment. So, Jose, tell us a little bit about yourself, your personal life, and your career and interests.

Jose Alvarez:

Well, I'll give you the flyover, Marlin, because I'm 67, so I'm doing a little…

Marlin Detweiler:

I just had My 67th birthday. Now we're the same age again. You've been older.

Jose Alvarez:

That's right. That's right. Well, yeah. I asked my wife if I looked 67 and she said, “No way, honey, but you used to!” So, you know, that's stung a little bit. Yeah. So the flyover– I was one of four children born to the same man and woman in Tampa, Florida. And my parents were not married at the time. They finally got married after the fourth child was born. This was in the mid-fifties. And then my dad was arrested in front of us, all the kids, and my mom, when I was five years old and sent to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. And he spent six of nine years there and got out when I was 11. We attended a little Baptist church with my mom down the road from our house, and then when my dad got out, he lived with us for about a month before they ended up getting a divorce.

I can remember when I was 11 when he got out and he and my mom got in a physical fight outside of our house and I jumped off our back porch and jumped on his back and just started beating on him. And he finally kind of threw me off his shoulders and left the house. And so that's what I had a childhood upbringing, like, played high school baseball, really kind of walked away from church when I was a high school kid.

And then when I went to college, I played two years of junior college and Tampa and Hillsborough Junior College. And then I got a scholarship to Louisiana-Lafayette, the Raging Cajuns and my sister actually, I had a younger sister. I have an older sister, a younger sister, and a younger brother. And my younger sister had come to faith and Jesus and she stuck a New Testament and hid it in my suitcase when I wasn't looking. She went in there and snuck it in there. And so when I get the college open up, I was like, “What in the world! There’s a Bible?” And I started reading that for a little bit. They can, hey, that might help me with my baseball, but slowly got away from it. And so for my junior and almost all of my senior year, I lived as if there was a God, but thinking that I was him.

Thinking that life was all about me and so it wasn't until I pretty much had everything that I thought would bring me significance and success. I knew I was going to get drafted to play professional baseball. And it was kind of that place in your life when you go, “Is that all there is?”

Kind of like the Tom Brady question:Is that all there is? Now, I hadn't won a Super Bowl or World Series, but I had enough already in my possession that I realized it wasn't going to bring me happiness or success or significance. And so I trusted Jesus as a college senior, maybe a week or so before college left.

And the guy that introduced me to Jesus actually gave me some books from the Navigators that helped me out on the discipleship process and, you know, I made it to the big leagues in ‘81, played a little bit in ‘82, and then for five years spent in the minor leagues, never smelled the big leagues, got married to my awesome wife Michelle in 1981.

We have three kids. After baseball I had a couple of things that I tried, and then for 15 years, up until September 1st of ‘22, I served with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Golf Ministry as a chaplain for the PGA’s Korn Ferry Tour. And now I'm serving with an organization called Links Fellowship. And that's the flyover in 60 seconds.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, well, I don’t know about 60 seconds, but there's a flyover. I know there's a lot more there. Now that your work in Links Fellowship– I have it as Links Players International, so I want to make sure I'm using the right term, is that?

Jose Alvarez:

The Links Players International is the organization we set up and I just left actually a club here in Greenville in the upstate of South Carolina where I live now. I’m from from Tampa, Michelle's from Jacksonville, but we've been in Greenville, South Carolina for the last 36 years. And we have fellowships – Link Players International sets up fellowships all around the country. And we're well over 300 now. Our goal is Vision 1000 – to see 1000 fellowships and what they are basically is setting up community groups in country clubs across America. And, you know, we're both avid golfers. Most of the country club guys are guys that, you know, they drive the Beamers and the Bends and the Rolls. They wear Rolexes, and they got the vacation homes and large bank accounts, but they're empty.

And so inviting them to church probably isn't going to be a place they would join us, but they'll join us in the country club. We meet right in the grill room or in the bar area of these country clubs at 7:30 in the morning. So when people ask me what I do now, I say, “Well, I'm in a bar about five days a week at 7:30 in the morning, but I don't have a drinking problem yet. So it's okay! Ha!”

Marlin Detweiler:

One of the statements I've heard you use as a description of what you do, I'd like to hear you unpack. I was waiting for you to say it. Since you didn't say it, I'll say it, but it's the idea of changing the conversation. Talk to us about what that means.

Jose Alvarez:

Yeah. You know, in golf, you think about it, most golfers go out and play golf. You know, guys and girls are so different, to begin with. You know, when girls play golf, it's all about they're talking and, you know, they're enjoying their time. Many of them don't really care how well they play. It's just about the fellowship and the time to be with each other.

Guys, you know, it's always about, you know, who's going to win. And we talked about a lot of things like news, weather, sports, politics, our backswings even. But do we really get to the place where I go, “Hey, Marlin, how are you really doing?” And occasionally, if you play with the same groups and guys get to know you, you might share some of the more intimate things in your life. But seldom do we ever go, “Hey, you know, I'm really struggling with this. And before we tee off, can we pray together?” You know, most guys are like, “Whoa, whoa, we're out here to play golf, not to get religious.” And I say, “WelI when people ask me, are you religious? I say, you know, I'd like to know what your definition of religious is because it seems like the only people Jesus had real problems with were the religious leaders.”

So, you know, we change the conversation. We have one fellowship that started here in the state of South Carolina as a result of a guy that took his life and he was a country club member, former president, and president of a bank. He was a really good golfer, went on a golf outing with a group of guys, and nobody knew that he was struggling and battling depression.

And after a round of golf, he shot under par. I think he shot 68, had talked to his wife after the round, and told her he looked forward to seeing her tomorrow, they were getting along fine. There was nothing hidden about this guy that would even suspect that he might take his life. And he went out and took his life right in his truck while the other guys were in the backyard tossing a football around in the fall.

So that Links Fellowship started because a member named Pat Duncan had such a burden for the people that he played golf with in his club. He started the Links Fellowship three-plus years ago before I even thought about joining the team with the Links Players International, and I would help them with that. I'd speak at it. I tend it when I was in town and it's amazing how guys are becoming very vulnerable and transparent and sharing what's going on in their life.

The one I left this morning is very unique. The very first week that we had it, a guy walked in and it's one of those guys at a club where everybody looks at and wonders, you know, okay, this guy is a mess. You hear him before you see him, some people would say he’s obnoxious and loud. And when he walked into the very first Links Fellowship, we had two guys that saw him walk in and looked at him and they look back like, what in the world who is this coming through the doors?

And he sees them. And I'm going to quote what he said. He looked at them and he goes, “I know what you're thinking. What the hell is T.O. doing here? Well, if there is a God, I'm not sure there is. I thought I'd check you guys out to see what this is all about.” And that was September 6th, 2022. October 14th, 2022 he placed his faith and trust in Jesus, and on August 12th, I'll be baptizing him and his wife in his backyard with about 50 to 60 other Links Fellowship people and friends that they're inviting over to his house. So it's really kind of a neat thing to see how people are opening up, changing the conversation, and realizing there's more than just birdies and eagles and pars and bogeys.

Marlin Detweiler:

Wow. That's really cool! I was going to ask the question, what does success look like for the organization? But I think you just answered it. Is there any more you want to add to that?

Jose Alvarez:

Well, I would just say this. It started in the Palm Springs area, California, 40 years ago. It's all over the country now. We've got fellowships that are popping up. I had a guy just three weeks ago, four weeks ago, who asked me actually two months ago, he asked me. But four weeks ago we went up to Oak Hill where they just played the PGA Championship and launched a Links Fellowship up there with a guy named Yogi Schiller.

And they're popping up all over the country. So if anybody's listening or watching today, if they just went to and they look at find a fellowship in their state there's a chance that there's there's one close or there will be in the next few years. Our vision is to have a thousand of these all over the country and it's guys that are just saying, “Hey, I want to leave a lasting impact on guys I play golf with. And it's not just about how well a golfer we become.”

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, well, as you know, our work is within the education world, with the K-12 student ages. And I'm curious, you know, our mission is to restore our culture to Christ one young heart in mind at a time. How do you think that fits with the mission of Links Players? Where do you see – obviously our interest in seeing the gospel over the whole Earth as the waters cover the sea, but I'm talking about I'm curious what other thoughts you might have about where the overlap comes from and how we might be connected there.

Jose Alvarez:

Marlin, I think about that in regards to our culture at this time of this generation, you know, when we grew up in the sixties really is when we kind of started reaching our youth and adolescence and teen years were in the seventies. There was a different explanation for a lot of things that we take for granted now or take took for granted then. But now it's kind of like in question. And here's an example, when we grew up the word Christian, we understood it to mean someone who had Christ within, someone that had come to the faith in who Jesus is and what he did on the cross and by his death on the cross, taking upon all of our sins, shame, and guilt upon himself, he made right our relationship between a broken man and a holy God.

And as a result of that, it caused for living in a way that would be walking a step with the Spirit of God, of demonstrating the fruits of the spirit of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Those fruits were expected as a believer, as a Christian, to walk and step and to do what God had called us to do as what Christ tells us to go into all the world.

And I think it's to go into all the world, not just proclaiming the goodness of Jesus, which is first and foremost, but it is to have a biblical worldview about who he is and what he's done. But today it's different. When you or I walk down the street of any street in USA Today and asked a thousand people, What do you think of a Christian, what words would you use to describe them?

Most people would come up with these different things, and I'm going to name them. Hypocritical or first judgmental, hypocritical. Too political, anti-abortion anti-homosexual. All they want to do is get you saved and all they want is your money. Who wants to be labeled as that? Now, that's what they're saying or thinking about us. But if you go on the street and you talk about Jesus and you ask people, I ask a thousand different people, What do you think of when you hear the word or the name Jesus?

They're going to come up with love, kind, good prophet, and savior. They'll come up with all kinds of very positive, none of them be negative. So the interesting thing, as most people don't realize and understand the word Christian is only in the Bible three times, three times in the entire Word of God in Acts when it says they were first called Christians in Antioch. The second time after Paul gives his testimony, King Agrippa. King Agrippa says, “You almost persuaded me to be one of those Christians”, kind of in a derogatory connotation. The third time, as Peter says, “If you suffer as a Christian.” But the word disciple, which means student learner, pupil, understudy, apprentice follower, 269 times, it's in the Bible up to 273, depending on what translation you're reading.

So Jesus never said, “Hey, go and make a bunch of Christians for me.” No, he says, Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. So what do I think of what Links and Christian education have in common is that I think we need to reeducate or educate people with truth. The truth of the gospel of who he is and not a legalistic form of, ok, yeah, you need to believe in Jesus, plus you need to do A, B, C, X, Y, Z, one, two, three. And we create this man-made list. It's faith alone and Christ alone. And so I think education is great. I joke and tell people that I was on the four-term plan of education when I went to college, and that was the Carter, Ford, Reagan and Bush terms.

So I say that I learned I was a four-year Letterman in high school, but I learned the other 22 in college. So education was not the first and foremost thing when I was growing up, unfortunately. And so today, you know, we want to educate our children with good, sound biblical truths, to have a biblical worldview of understanding that God created all. His fingerprints are on every area; they’re in mathematics, they’re in science.

There is some interesting thing. I just saw a thing about Gemologist, the studies of Gem. And it's a fascinating study about the jewels that God talks about in the Book of Revelation that are going to be used in the New Kingdom. Diamonds are not going to be used. And the reason is because this guy speculates that pure light when it's pierced through these stones produces unbelievable brilliance.

But through a diamond, pure light, through it does not produce brilliance. It's darkness. And so what it's just interesting is what man values as worthy and valuable in today's culture in the kingdom that is going to come in full it's worthless. So if we get our wives to buy into that right now, we wouldn't have to be buying them so many diamonds right?

Marlin Detweiler:

I'm not going there.

Jose Alvarez:

No, let's not touch that.

Marlin Detweiler:

I don't remember. I remember the circumstance vaguely when we first met. But one of the things that has stuck out from that very moment, our first phone conversation to today, it's on every email you send. It is something that is, oh, for lack of a better word, something that people might think of as a trademark for you. And it is something that's actually quite profound.

And what was maybe most indelible in my thinking about the statement that I'm about to let people know was even when I talk to you at 9:00, it's a statement that you will clearly articulate. And it's this, “This could be the best day of your life.” Tell me how that whole thing came about in that being a way that people know you.

Jose Alvarez:

Well, I feel like I've always been a pretty half-glass-full individual, very optimistic.

Marlin Detweiler:

In spite of what you grew up with, you can say without hesitation. What a testimony to God's grace.

Jose Alvarez:

It is. It's all about him. Nothing about me for sure. But I had a mom that just had the deck stacked against her from the very beginning. She was one of seven children. She was abused by her father in every way imaginable. And it just seemed like she was always running uphill and yet she loved very well.

She loved her kids, she loved others. In fact, there was never a stranger at our house. We lived in a one-bedroom house. I tell people it was so, so small. You had to go outside to change your mind. I mean, this house was small. And it was a one-bedroom house, one bedroom, one bath. And I think the total size of the house was something like 750 square feet, which is a room.

And my mom was so optimistic. She always looked for the good in other people. And she told us that and taught us to look for the good in other people. And several years ago I was out on the Korn Ferry tour and one of the guys that worked for the PGA Tour, he was kind of a grumpy old guy, and he was one of those guys where you just never knew where he was going to come from.

And it seemed like he was always crotchety and a naysayer and just kind of real ho-hum, just kind of like the I forget the cartoon character that Eyore, he's kind of the Eyore, you know. And I asked him one day, I said, I don't want to mention his first name, but I said to him, “Hey, how are you doing today?”

And he says to me, “Today could be the best day of my life.” And I went, “That's awesome. I like that.” This was probably eight years ago, nine years ago. And I said, “Can I borrow that?” And he goes, “Borrow what?” And I was like, “That line is fascinating.” And so I started using it, and I've had some of the most interesting conversations with people.

One guy, I said, “Hey, how are you doing?” He goes, “I'm fine. How are you?” Well, typically people ask you how you're doing as a response is almost like a greeting. Pavlov's experiment, you know, it's just a conditional response. Yeah, it's yeah, I'm fine. How are you? They're really not interested in how you're doing, but it's like the proper thing to say.

And I'll say, you know, “Today could be the best day of my life.” And I look at them and they go, “Why?” And I go “Because it could be.” And I had this one guy who asked me that and he's like, “I don't think so.” And I said, “Let me ask you a question.” I said, “Do you have yesterday?”

He said, “Yeah,” I go, “Really? You have yesterday. How do you get yesterday back? You had yesterday, but do you have yesterday?” And he goes, “Well, no,” I said, “Well if you found a way to have yesterday again, please, you can market that. I could avoid a lot of mistakes and we can make a ton of money if we could have yesterday back!” And I said, “So do you have tomorrow?”

He said, “Yeah, I know.” “Really you have tomorrow? You're guaranteed tomorrow?” And he goes, “Well, no, I guess not when you put it that way.” And I say, “So what do you have?” And he goes, “Today” I go, “Make the best day of it.” And I walked off. I believe that every day is a gift.

And if we wake up believing that God is sovereign and that what we have today is exactly what we need today. And so I look at it as it's all about attitude. There's everything that happened. You know, I woke up with this attitude yesterday. Was everything yesterday perfect for me? No, it was a pretty good day, but perfect. Now there are some things I wish would have gone differently. Absolutely.

But if I trust in the sovereignty of God that he orders our steps and that whatever he's working out is for his glory and for my good. And I have the opportunity to receive this gift today. And someone said, “Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery, but today's the present. So live like it's a present from God.”

And that's what I've tried to do. I don't I don't do it perfectly. But yeah, it is a tagline now. I have “Make today the best day of your life” at the bottom of my emails. And when people ask me, and it’s funny, because you'll get some chuckle times, it's all about timing. You know, the key to good comedy, right, Marlin?

Marlin Detweiler:

Timing. Timing is it!

Jose Alvarez:

I'll say that. I go, you know, today could be the best day of my life and that usually gets a chuckle.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, at 9:00 at night when you're headed to bed, that is an incredible thing to contemplate. And that's one of the things that happened that really captured my imagination. So thanks.

Well, we've got a few minutes left and I wanted to ask this question just for the anecdotal interest. Give us a couple, if you can, good baseball, professional baseball stories from the inside.

Jose Alvarez:

Well, you know, I don't know where most of your listeners are. They're probably worldwide. Let's make that assumption.

Marlin Detweiler:

True, not everyone will know what baseball is!

Jose Alvarez:

Being, you know, years ago in the seventies, when Ted Turner started TBS and telecasting the Braves games, there were only two teams that got nationwide coverage. One was the Chicago Cubs and two was the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Braves got larger coverage than anybody.

Marlin Detweiler:

For the record, I don't think we've said this, you and I know this, but for our audience, you played for the Braves.

Jose Alvarez:

I did. I played 16 years, 16 seasons professionally, ten of them, you know, 11 in the minor leagues, ten with the Braves organization, but only four parts of four in the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves, ‘81, ‘82, ‘88, and ‘89, and then ‘90 with the Giants. So a lot of minor league days. And, you know, I'm not a big guy so you know pitching in today's generation I probably won't even make an A-ball team, that's what I tell people.

I've had other people say, “Oh, no, you knew how to pitch.” But anyway, I will tell you this, this one cool story is that I got to play with some of the greats. I played with Dale Murphy and Phil Niekro and I played with John Smoltz was my roommate. He was a Hall of Famer.

Tom Glavine and I were teammates. So I got to play with a lot of great guys and I played with guys that were in the Hall of Fame. I helped a few guys get into the Hall of Fame, no question about that. Pitching against them. I used to get Christmas cards from Barry Bonds. Just kidding. But he should have sent me a Christmas card.

I will tell you, this is a true story and it's not bragging if it's true. But John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux, arguably the three greatest pitchers on a team in the history of baseball, you had I don't know how many I think seven, Cy Young's, eight Cy Young’s and an unbelievable stat 300 game winner and Glavine and Maddox and John Smoltz, the only player in baseball history to win 250 games and save 150 games.

So all these guys were great. Well, there was a hitter named Tony Gwynn, and Tony Gwynn was arguably one of the greatest hitters of all time. You know, you can put him right up in there. And in the Ted Williams category, a phenomenal hitter. Not that he hit for a lot of power, but he was a perennial 300-hitter.

Well, Smoltz, Glavin, and Maddux faced him hundreds of times. And of the hundreds of times each of them faced him, I believe it was Glavine that struck him out the most. I think he struck him out four times. I think Smoltz struck him out once and Maddux never struck him out. All three of those guys, all three of those guys are in the Hall of Fame.

I faced Tony Gwynn three times. I got two ground outs. And then the last time I faced an was in April of 1989, and I threw him a curveball for a call strike. I threw him a curveball. He fouled it down the first base line and I threw him a fastball that he took right on the outer part of the plate for a call-strike three didn't even swing the bat. Some people think it's the only time in the history of his career that he struck out on three pitches in the third being a call-strike fastball. So if that doesn't tell you how messed up the Hall of Fame is, I don't know what does! Ha!

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, Jose, thank you so much for joining us. I can't tell you how much I have appreciated your work. Your work for me personally has been a real treasure. And I look forward to a developing friendship and relationship. And I hope much of it will be on the golf course.

Jose Alvarez:

Well, Marlin, thank you for all you're doing and being the leader of this great organization and love you and Laurie and your family and just think the world of you and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life and part of this podcast today.

Marlin Detweiler:

You bet. Today we've had Jose Alvarez on Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Folks, thank you for joining us once again.