Around this time 12 years ago, York Revolution relief pitcher Ian Durham was just 13 years old, but he felt wise enough to make a serious decision regarding his future.
It would involve two of his passions: baseball and religion. And it would have a major impact on him on the field and off.
His parents divorced when he was 4 years old and both quickly remarried. So Durham grew up living with his mom and stepdad when he chose to cut off visitations with his dad.
"A lot of it had to do with, he (my dad) would go to church all the time. My stepmom was a really heavy Seventh-Day Adventist. Strict, like a Mormon. There was literally no messing around on Saturdays," Durham said.
Durham considers himself a Christian, having developed his love for God since he began going to church at a young age, first with his dad and later with his mom. But his dad's strict preference to observe the Sabbath, or Saturday, as a day of rest meant he couldn't play baseball on the weekends.
"It was like a little too extreme for me at that point. I was a kid. I want to go out on a Saturday and play ball," Durham said. "I couldn't play in little leagues. With my dad I couldn't play baseball."
The relationship between father and son soon disintegrated shortly after Durham's decision. According to multiple conversations I've had recently with Durham and his mom, Anita Miller, Durham's dad rarely came to watch Durham play sports all the way through his days at Ventura (Calif.) High School and California Lutheran University. Durham said his dad has never seen him play professionally since he was drafted by the Phillies in 2011.
You might wonder what all this has to do with Durham's baseball career. Durham believes his growing faith in Christ and his falling-out with his dad has made him a stronger person.
"I think that's what prepared him for this life in baseball," Anita Miller said of her son. "What he went through in his childhood kind of jaded his emotions. He's a loving person. For him to be able to walk away ... when your dad doesn't want to see you, it's gonna hurt."
Durham's faith and toughness helped him through high school, where coaches kept him mostly in right field because of his strong right arm, rarely opting to use him as a pitcher. The traits aided him at NCAA Division III Cal-Lutheran, where he had to give up being a two-sport athlete in baseball and football (wide receiver) following his freshman year.
They assisted him in his ups and downs as he basically learned how to pitch in college. He was used sporadically on the mound during his first couple years before being given a real shot to pitch as a junior. In his senior year, the 6-foot, 4-inch 200-pounder put up a 4.22 ERA and left Cal-Lutheran in 2011 still very much raw and learning how to pitch.
"There would be times where he was so good and other times it's like, 'what the heck happened?' " longtime Cal-Lutheran coach Marty Slimak recalled of Durham. "He is a gifted kid, it's not like he can't throw it."
Drafted by Philadelphia in the 28th round, Durham put up decent numbers with the Phils' rookie ball club in the summer of 2011, but wasn't brought back. Durham has responded by working his way up through the independent ranks, performing well against rookie-level hitters in the independent Frontier League in 2012 and double-A level batters in the independent American Association in 2013.
Now with York, the 25-year-old Durham is the youngest player on the team and making his debut in the independent Atlantic League, aiming to prove himself against triple-A level hitters. In his Revs debut in York's second game of the season April 26, Durham held Camden hitless while striking out two and walking one in two innings of relief en route to picking up his first win in a Revs uniform.
Given his relatively young age, his low-90s fastball and repertoire of fastball, changeup, cutter and curveball, Durham is at the top of my list of York players who could get picked up by a big league club this year.
Dad: Shortly before Durham left for York a month or so ago, he heard from his dad.
"Maybe a text message or (he) called me and was like 'hey, I'm thinking of coming down on this date. It would be nice to go out the night before and have a drink or whatever,'" Durham said. "We went out that night and had a good time."
Durham said it was the first time he had seen his father in three years. Over the years, he's matured and grown spiritually, giving him perspective on how to treat his dad respectfully despite what's happened between them in the past.
"He's still my dad. We don't have a really tight-knit relationship," he said. "It's still kind of cool because I still catch up with him."
Durham is not bothered by the fact his dad has never seen him pitch in the pros. Nor is he frustrated by the path he's taken to this point in his baseball career. This is where Durham's faith comes into play. He wonders if perhaps this is the road he was supposed to take all along. He's discovered his experiences have made him a good pitching coach at Buena (Calif.) High School, where he's coached the last two years. Maybe he's supposed to become a coach one day. Maybe he's supposed to reach the majors. Maybe both.
"I like the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11. I can't quote the verse for you exactly but it says 'God has a plan for you,' " Durham said. "Things happen in life and are meant to happen for a reason. You may not see it at the moment."
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.