Josh and Ginger Willingham lead a program to feed hungry children in their Alabama hometown.
By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle
FLORENCE, Ala. — Josh Willingham stayed up most of the night praying.
After going to the World Series with the Kansas City Royals in 2014, the 35-year-old slugger had a decision to make.
A difficult one.
The 11-year major-league veteran could play another season and hope to avoid the nagging injuries that had required multiple surgeries.
Or the free-agent left fielder could choose not to sign another contract. He could become a full-time father to his three young sons and start the next chapter in his life.
“I am a family-oriented guy, and my kids were getting older,” said Willingham, who with his wife, Ginger, shared the family’s story at Mars Hill Bible School, the couple’s alma mater. “And I was missing a lot of their lives.”
Josh told his agent that if he got an offer from the Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals — the teams closest to his northwest Alabama home — he’d consider it.
“As it turns out, I did get those offers,” he recalled during a benefit dinner held before the coronavirus pandemic forced social distancing.
The night before he had to decide, fellow Christians met at Josh’s house and joined the Florence native in seeking God’s direction.
“I can remember we were all praying about it,” he said. “I just really struggled with the decision. But my only prayer was, ‘Lord, I just want to be 100 percent (certain) and have no regrets.’
“And I haven’t. It’s been a good time,” added Josh, who ended his career with 195 home runs, 632 RBIs and an .823 on-base plus slugging percentage. “I’m still involved with baseball, just in a different way — teaching little youngsters.”