FREE BYRD: The Power of a Liberated Life
Professional baseball pitcher Paul Byrd recounts his search to reconcile his faith with his masculinity and legalism with grace in FREE BYRD. He refreshingly calls himself a "work in progress," and the book is emblematic of this, showing us page by page how the Christian walk of faith is one often full of questions, confusion and stumbling blocks --- as well as joy.
Although there is some autobiography about his childhood and anecdotes about Byrd's dating and family life (and a centerspread full of photos), this is less a memoir or sports saga as it is a book about Christian living. Those looking for lots of baseball game recaps or on-field anecdotes will be disappointed. However, men who are trying to figure out what it means to be a man of faith will find plenty to chew on here.
Byrd notes about his spiritual battles in different areas: "I have to be honest and tell you that at times, it still confuses me when things seem to go our way even when we sin. It's equally frustrating when we walk with him and love him and something horrible happens. I just have to remind myself what the truth of the matter is, which goes something like 'God is good and I'm not him.' Although God knows the pureness of our hearts, along with the motives behind our actions, many times we don't, and I've come to believe there is great benefit when we know if we truly love him or a better lifestyle…."
What's most refreshing about Byrd's story is his vulnerability about some of his struggles, especially his ongoing struggle with pornography. Although this may resonate most with male readers, women who have a spouse or boyfriend with the same struggles may also find some insights here.
Byrd is more reticent about other autobiographical details, including some more extended family issues that are hinted at but not unpacked. "Even though I have always thought highly of my father, at times he has really hurt our family. It's very tough to talk about and I will not break confidences in our family for the sake of a book….." While the reader will respect this, it does leave some question marks.
No co-author is listed with Byrd, and (assuming there is also no ghost writer) this gives the book a very raw, authentic feel. Byrd can get a little wordy in his sentences, but his heartfelt passion for Christ and for the game of baseball come through loud and clear. He relates many of his own personal struggles to the great men --- and great sinners --- of the Bible. The battle between David and Goliath, then, becomes a foil for his own story of pitching a four-hit shutout against the Houston Astros and their towering pitcher, Randy Johnson. The wrestling between Jacob and God for a blessing becomes a way to tell about his own desire from validation from his earthly father, who he calls "Larry the Legend."
The toughest --- and last -- section of the book is Byrd's response to accusations that he has misused Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Although the reader wants to believe Byrd, there's a cloud over his usage. As the book draws to a close, he admits he's confused that his story hasn't satisfied Major League Baseball, and points out he is under investigation by their lawyers and may be suspended. It's a discouraging and confusing note to end the book on, although it would have seemed odd if he hadn't addressed the issue.
While baseball fans of either gender will enjoy getting to know Byrd better through the pages of his book, Christian men who are trying to figure out how to be masculine and spiritual at the same time will likely be the primary audience. They will find plenty of ideas to mull over here.
--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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