OMAHA, Neb. – Minor league manager Brett Butler stood before his players in the visiting clubhouse after the Reno Aces won the Pacific Coast League Championship Series against the Omaha Storm Chasers. He spoke about the importance of character and integrity – a theme that is familiar to his team.
Every year he starts the season with a team meeting, saying, “You’re a baseball player for a short period of time, but you’re a man, a father and a husband for the rest of your life, and I’m more concerned about your character and integrity [than your baseball career].”
As he brought that theme full circle while holding the championship trophy in mid-September, Butler wanted his guys to savor the moment but also to remember that wins and championships are fleeting.
Butler, 55, knows something about the tests and difficulties his guys will face in life.
He played 17 years in the big leagues for the Braves, Indians, Giants, Dodgers and Mets from 1981-97. The scrappy outfielder played in the 1991 All-Star game and, for his career, hit .290 while picking up 2,375 hits and stealing 558 bases (25th all-time). Toward the end of his career, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, and it made him think about what is important.
“As I was laying in the hospital thinking I was dying, I wasn’t concerned about how rich or famous I was, or how much money I made,” Butler said. “Instead, I thought about my relationship with God, my relationship with my family and what kind of positive impact I was going to leave on this world when I leave.”
Butler became a Christian as a sophomore in high school after attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event. He says he placed too high a priority on baseball early on, but hardship taught him to open his hands to God and accept His will – no matter what it might be.
He survived his first bout with cancer and then was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the mid-2000s. He survived that and in 2007 suffered a mild stroke. He was able to resume his managerial career in the minor leagues, but he came out of his latest health concern with a message.
“Adversity and trials are either going to take you away from God or toward Him,” Butler said. “And I can tell you that my faith has only gotten stronger through the adversity I’ve gone through.”
Butler started managing in the minor leagues in 2004. He has managed the Gulf Coast League Mets, Lancaster JetHawks, Mobile BayBears and, since 2009, the Aces (the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks).
After Reno won the PCL Championship Series, the Aces defeated the Pawtucket Red Sox 10-3 Sept. 18 to win the Triple-A National Championship game.
A few days earlier, before his team won the Pacific Coast League title, Butler put everything into perspective – the numbers he put up in the big leagues, his health problems and, now, being on the verge of winning a league championship.
“As I look back [at my playing career], it was like another life,” Butler said. “But more than anything, I think about the awesomeness of God – that He could take a kid who was 5 feet tall and weighed 89 pounds and couldn’t start on his high school baseball team and put him in the big leagues for 17 years. And then go through a bout of cancer and still allow him to come back.
“That’s just the power of the living God. He has a plan for my life and His plan included me being involved in baseball. So, the glory, the praise goes to Him.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lee Warren is a writer in Omaha, Neb.)