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Allison Niccum
Bees Kalub Cowart, No. 31, rounds third base.
I’ve had a tough time. ... But I trusted in Christ. I never lost my faith.

Salt Lake Bees third baseman Kaleb Cowart doesn't just sign autographs for fans, he gives them a spiritual booster shot. Beneath his name he always jots the reference Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

“My mother instilled that in me,” says Cowart. “It was her favorite scripture. Now it’s mine.”

Signing with scripture is not merely the gesture of a man of faith, it’s the pocket testimony of a man who was shoved into the fiery furnace and then lived to tell the tale.

In 2010, Cowart was named the Gatorade High School Player of the Year — in other words, he was considered the best high school player in the nation.

Los Angeles chose him as its No. 1 draft pick and never looked back. He was the top prospect on a long list of prospects. He came to pro baseball with a big label stuck to him. The label read: “This guy can’t miss.”

Ah yes, the curse of the “can’t miss” label.

Cowart missed.

Always good with the glove, he got jammed up at the double-A level because he couldn’t find his batting stroke. He started to press. He got jammed up more. He stalled again at double-A. Then, last year, he started going backwards. The Angels sent him to San Bernardino, California, and the single-A Inland Empire 66ers.

For kids on the rise, Inland Empire looks like the Promised Land.

For those beginning to slide, like Cowart, it looks like Purgatory.

It’s where baseball careers go to die.

And Kaleb Cowart was only 22 years old.

An old Christian aphorism says to “Pray as if all depended on God, then work as if it all depended on you.”

And at Inland Empire, Cowart put that notion to the test.

And several weeks ago, the born-again Baptist from Adel, Georgia, was reborn on the baseball diamond as well, thanks to good coaching, tremendous hard work and an unshakable faith.

“I’ve had a tough time,” Cowart said, in typical low-key fashion. “But I trusted in Christ. I never lost my faith.”

He never lost his faith in himself either.

At this writing, Cowart is batting .321 with the triple-A Bees and people are beginning to imagine him in Angel red one day, something that seemed unthinkable just two months ago.

“Kaleb has a great attitude,” said Johnny Narron, the Bees’ batting coach. “And he’s great at applying what he needs to learn.”

Narron, an old hand at this stuff, spends a lot of time just listening to Cowart and bringing him along slowly. He preaches patience. Even though Cowart is now hitting lasers almost every time he steps to the plate, the Bees are keeping him near the bottom of the batting order and not rushing things. Batting, says Narron, is physical, visual and mental — especially mental.

I asked the batting coach if he thought Cowart might eventually live up to his early, top billing.

Narron didn’t miss a beat. “Yes,” he said.

As for Cowart, he’s not shy about letting people know who he credits with his recent baseball “resurrection.” He takes a knee at third base before every game to pray and he wears a silver cross around his neck that flips and flies whenever he runs. And, of course, there’s that scripture he posts with every signature.

When asked if he’s afraid his faith may become a lightning rod for detractors, the way it did for quarterback Tim Tebow, Cowart says that's not something he worries about.

“I think we’re all here for a reason,” he says. “And I’ve been blessed to be able to play baseball. If I can bring just one person to Christ, whatever I do will be worth it.”

In Cowart’s mind, Jesus saved his soul, then he saved his baseball career.

Now, Kaleb feels it’s his job to help his Lord do the same for others.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com