Jacob Duncan Reborn In Christ

To see how far Jake Duncan has come, you have to know how far he had to go. On his birth certificate, it says that Jake was born on November 20, 1981, but he says he was born on May 15, 2001. Or should we say reborn. Late that night in May, Jake was alone in his apartment near the University of Texas campus. He started crying as he laid in bed. He couldn t sleep, and nothing he tried seemed to work. There was no one to talk to; nobody to call. I just lived for myself. I had hurt all the people I cared about. I didn t even like who I was, Jake recalled. I had truly hit rock bottom. That was the lowest point in my life. I had dragged myself through the mud. I probably broke all 10 commandments. I was guilty as sin. I was a scumbag. Then, about 3 a.m. the phone rang. To this day, Jake doesn t know why he answered the call. It was Amanda, a girl he had seen in class every day but had barely spoken to. She asked if she could say a prayer for me. I listened to her prayer and it was the same stuff I heard my whole life, but something was different that night, Jake said. She told me about a God that I didn t know. I had created a God in my mind that suited me. He was a God who didn t care about sin and was just happy if I went to church on Sunday. But I realized that Christ died for our sins and I was one of the people who nailed him to the cross. I should have been the one punished.

I had hurt the God who had given me life by hurting my family that I loved more than anything. All I cared about was sex and alcohol. I partied on Friday and Saturday, but on Sunday I was a Christian. I thought I knew all the right words, but I was a hypocrite. I realized how horrible my sins were. That one phone call helped me see things so clearly. The phone conversation lasted only a few minutes, but what was said will last a lifetime. After hanging up the phone, Jake fell to his knees and cried even harder than before, but this time it was tears of joy. Her words had given me a peace inside. I felt at peace for the first time in my life, Jake said. A giant weight was lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I was forgiven and handed a second chance. I trusted in Jesus with all my heart. That went from the worse night of my life to the best night of my life. In a matter of minutes, Jake fell asleep.
Ironically, the next day Jake didn t see Amanda in class. He never saw her again. Jake went to the house where she said she lived, but they d never heard of her. He went to the college registrar and even looked on the internet, but no trace of Amanda.
I have to admit for a little while I was wondering if she was real. But she didn t call me out of the blue. It wasn t just by chance. She was an angel used by God to wake me up, Jake said. I wish she knew what affect her prayer had on me that night. I d never be where I am today if it wasn t for Amanda s phone call.

Jake is coming off his best season since he was a 10th round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles back in 2003. Playing for the Class A Delmarva Shorebirds in the South Atlantic League, he hit .296 and was among the team leaders in just about every offensive category. After the season, Jake was presented with the Orioles Elrod Hendricks Minor League Community Service Award in a pre-game ceremony at Camden Yard. Back in January during spring training in Florida, Jake organized several teammates trips to go with him to the local Salvation Army homeless shelter to serve meals. He spoke at libraries for a summer reading program and at churches, hospitals, schools and nursing homes. Jake is now very much involved with Athletes In Christ and sits on their Advisory Council. His passion for sharing Christ is very beneficial to the ministry of AIC as Jake works with manny young athletes in a mentoring and instructional role.

I used to have a big fear of speaking in front of people, but when I can talk about Christ that fear just disappears, Jake said. I think I have something to say that people might want to hear. My path has taken me in both directions, both right and wrong. I look back and it s a little scary to think how close I came to going down the wrong road. I was just that one phone call away. I think my spiritual journey started that night when Amanda called.

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His baseball journey started in a small town called Marshall. Texas. As a high school sophomore at Marshall High, Jake was a skinny 160-pounder who felt he was too small to play football. And in Texas, where football is more of a religion than a sport, there isn t anything more embarrassing to a kid. I had no self esteem. I felt pretty worthless; like a nobody, Jake remembered. I guess I was so blinded by insecurity. I was ready to try anything. Even if that meant taking steroids. Twice a week, Jake started injecting himself with steroids. He called it his liquid confidence. In a matter of weeks, Jake gained nearly 20 pounds and with it he gained some new-found respect.

People s comments and the way people looked at me meant everything to me, Jake said. I needed to feel confident about myself and that always meant girls. I was defined by who I went out with. The girls gave me my self worth and boosted my ego.
Not only was Jake taking steroids, but he even started getting a few of his friends started on them. At first I lied to them and said I was just taking Creatine, and I think the local stores were doing big business in Creatine, Jake said. But I didn t think I was doing anything wrong so I told them the truth and helped show them how to use it. While most of his teammates were bench-pressing 200 pounds, Jake was lifting over 315 pounds. It seemed like the more I could lift in the gym, the better I felt about myself, Jake admitted. But I had to stop lifting so much or even more people would start talking. People were noticing the change and there was more talk than I ever realized. But a lot of them just thought I was going through a growth spurt. They might have suspected steroids, but probably figured how could a doctor s son do anything so stupid. I should have known better. I did know better, but none of that mattered.

One night, at the dinner table, his father, Doug Duncan, who just happens to be an orthopedic surgeon, came right out and asked Jake if he was taking steroids. Right to his face, Jake lied and said he d never used steroids. As my parents, they didn t want to believe it. They wanted to believe I was being honest with them, Jake said. They wanted me to come to them and admit it, but I couldn t do that. So I lied. I figured if all else fails just keep lying. If they had questioned me I was so rebellious that I probably would have taken more. I would have done what I wanted no matter what. Especially after the summer he had prior to his senior year. Before Jake even started his senior year, he had a full scholarship to the University of Texas. Their coaches had seen Jake play in a summer league game when he hit two home runs and were ready to offer him the scholarship right on the spot. He couldn t say yes fast enough. That was like music to my ears, he said.

Like every other kid in Texas, it was always Jake s dream to be a Longhorn. His father played at Texas and Jake wanted so badly to follow in his footsteps. Jake didn t let the Texas coaches down. In his senior year, and now weighing over 200 pounds, he hit a school-record 12 homers with a .420 batting average and earned all-state honors. But his dream of playing for Texas quickly turned into a nightmare. Jake compared fall camp to being in boot camp. It wasn t anything like I expected. I hated baseball for the first time in my life. I wanted to do anything but go to the ballpark, Jake said. I couldn t respect the coaches if they didn t respect me. They didn t treat us like we were human; more like pieces of garbage. We were verbally beaten down every day. If you kill a kid s confidence then he might as well hang up his cleats, and they killed every bit of confidence that I ever had.
I don t think I remember a positive word being said. All they did was berate us. I felt like I wasn t even supposed to be there. I m not even sure they knew my name because they didn t call me by name the whole time I was there. The coaches had their favorites and I obviously wasn t one of them.

His freshman year at Texas lasted just seven games and as far as Jake was concerned it was seven games too long.
In his first game back from a mild hamstring pull, Jake dove for a ball hit into the outfield gap and tore his hamstring. That was not only the end of his season but the end of his UT career. During the fall, Jake s mother had talked him out of quitting the team, but as soon as the school year was over Jake transferred to Texas Christian University. Since he was given a medical redshirt at Texas, Jake was able to play the 2002 season at TCU. As a freshman, he ranked third on the team with a .310 average and led the team with a .587 slugging percentage. The highlight had to be a three-game series against his former school, Texas, which was nationally ranked. He went 4-for-11, including two homers. Jake was limited to only 36 starts and half of those were as the designated hitter. He again was bothered by a nagging hamstring injury, probably a byproduct of his steroid use. Jake had started taking steroids for the short-lived confidence, but continued to deal with the long-lasting consequences.

During that first year at TCU, his father was diagnosed with cancer. I was devastated. Why God? Why my dad who has dedicated his life helping people? Why not me who hasn t done anything good? Jake said. But I relied on God and his wisdom. He s in the miracle business and he worked a miracle on my father. It was while at TCU that Jake met Matt Day, a seminarian student who would eventually become the chaplain at TCU. He was just a few years older than Jake and also played college baseball.
Still it took several weeks in bible study before Jake felt comfortable talking to Matt. But once he did, Jake couldn t stop talking.
I told Matt that I was still taking steroids and I wasn t ready to give it up, Jake admitted. I was drug tested twice in college and never tested positive so I was getting away with it. I was blind to the dangers. I tried to justify it anyway I could. I wasn t physically addicted to the steroids, but mentally I felt I needed them. Matt taught me about accountability and if you profess to being a Christian then people are going to be watching you and hoping you mess up. They ll watch every move you make and if people find out that you are using steroids that might cause someone else to turn away from Christ because you d look like a hypocrite. I couldn t live with myself if that happened. God taught me so much through Matt. With his next cycle of steroids ready at home, Jake decided to stop cold turkey. To be honest, I was scared when I made that decision. I wasn t sure how well I d do without the steroids. I did a lot of praying on that. Jake said. I didn t have very much self-confidence after what happened at Texas. But looking back, I think that was all God s plan. Maybe I needed to be humbled. Jake came back in his sophomore season and hit .360 with 12 home runs and started almost every game in right field.

After the Orioles made him the 248th overall pick in the June draft, Jake was assigned to the low Class A Aberdeen Ironbirds. If he was humbled at Texas, then he was downright demoralized at Aberdeen. Jake hit only .161 and had more strikeouts than hits. I just stunk it up. I couldn t get used to not playing every day so when I did play I tried to do too much, he said. After the season I had to sit down and try to figure out how to hit again. Jake started the 2004 season at extended spring training and then split his time between Class A Aberdeen and Frederick. He hit .340 at Frederick and .271 at Aberdeen, where he collected pinch-hits in six straight games, including two home runs. He again had to battle through nagging leg injuries and toward the end of the season was limited to being a late-inning pinch-hitter. He s lived without the steroids for almost four years, but has to still live with the consequences even to this day.

Last October, Jake had a chance to take a three-week missionary trip to deliver supplies to tribes in New Guinea in West Africa. He jumped at the chance. With help from family and friends back in Marshall, Texas, he was able to raise the $2,500.
I read about these missionaries who were killed for their faith and that broke my heart. I had no idea that was going on. I wanted to go there and put my faith to the test. You could say I needed to go there. Was I strong enough?
Not only was Jake s faith put to the test, but so were his survival skills. In those three weeks his group visited six tribes. There was a language barrier; not to mention a race barrier. There was no running water unless you count running down to the river with a bucket, which was also your shower. There was no electricity, no T.V., no radio, and believe it or not, no cell phones.
I really saw how blessed we are to live in America. How much we take for granted, and things we call necessities that we could live without, Jake said. But they get by just fine. They 're happier than most Americans are. The weather was so hot and humid that Jake lost 15 pounds in those three weeks. It always felt like 150 degrees, day or night. We never stopped sweating. It was so hot we couldn t sleep at night, he said. So we d sit outside and hope for a breeze. I spent a lot of time praying and reading the bible and just looking up at the stars and thinking about things. You are alone with your thoughts and your God. I thanked God for things I never thanked him for. A few years ago that would have meant nothing. Now it means everything.

Jake is now happily married and has completed his education and is currently a physicians assistant.

BY JOE DOMAGALSKI, Special Correspondent to AIC